Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The multitude movement limited by the pace of cultural change and of general understanding of open movements

Since the start of the #occupy movement, whenever I had the chance to engage in a deeper conversation about the movement with active members, with journalists, or simply with people passing by the  #occupy Montreal camp, where I was very active, I tried to put the movement in the broader context of what we call the multitude constructive revolution. To my surprise, almost everyone was clueless and probably saw in me signs of insanity, because I was speaking a language they were not familiar with. Only a very few surprised me, being able to absorb very quickly the information I was trying to convey, agreeing with most of it. Those individuals had one thing in common, they were very close to the software world. They understood the influence of the new technology in shifting the balance of power towards individuals and their communities.      

I've always seen the #occupy movement as a manifestation of this multitude constructive revolution, which is much broader, touching almost all aspects of our activity. Most of these affected aspects don't have a clear manifestation on the public scene, they are just lurking beneath the surface, unseen by the untrained eye. We've witnessed surface waves in the past, starting with the  End the Fed movement in 2008, which sparked the TeaParty movement, to the so-called Twitter revolution in 2009 in the Republic of Moldova, to the 2009-2010 Green Revolution in Iran, to the Arab Spring, and to the 15-M movement in Spain. Is the #occupy everywhere the last wave able to tip the establishment over? I don't think so. But every one of these waves leaves permanent marks, which will affect the next wave, and the way the establishment will react to it. If we are not at the tipping point yet, it doesn't mean that change will not happen. The transformative forces introduced by the new technology are extremely powerful. Change will eventually happen, but when and how?

photo by Sunset Parkerpix
Almost all occupation camps around the world have been dismantled. The energy they had concentrated within them is now diffusing into society, operating these permanent changes that will pave the way for the next wave to come. Neighborhoods are now organizing using new methods that emerged during the occupation. New economical initiatives are taking shape, establishing open and decentralized means of production and distribution of value, establishing new institutions based on a new paradigm, almost entirely outside of the system. The march towards economical independence has begone. Contrary to what we hear in the media, the occupy movement is not a failure. But we need to acknowledge that it has its own problems. If it didn't succeed in tipping over the establishment, if governments and corporations are still running their business as usual, it's because the movement didn't have what it takes to complete its mission. What is the mission of this movement? I exposed my personal opinion in my last post Rebranding the #occupy movement.

Being very close to the movement, I identified two important problems. One of them is the general lack of understanding of open movements. The other one stems from the fact that the movement is lacking the culture required to build sustainable massive open movements

A significant portion of the occupy Montreal active members believed that this movement was very similar to the hippie movement in the 60's. Their core message was that love is the key ingredient to transform the world. They had very little understanding about the influence that the new technology has on very fundamental socio-economical processes. And for the most part, they were even rejecting technology and advocating a return to basic ancient social structures, closer to nature, to mother Earth, to use one of their favorite expressions. What brought these individuals within the movement was a set of values to which we all resonated: freedom, direct democracy, sharing and collaboration, a denial of the corporate system, of greed, etc. But this moral alignment is not enough for a constructive movement relying on the liberating aspects of the new technology. Veterans from the 60's had a tendency to reproduce the same forms of organizations, and the younger crowd sympathetic to the hippie culture were heavily influenced by them.

Some active members were talking about spontaneous organization. They witnessed this phenomena during the first days of the occupation (see my previous post What are the #occupation camps). But in fact most of them had no clue about how a group self-organizes and what are the conditions for it to self-organize into something rather than something else, or to engage on a destructive path. See my post #occupy Montreal, our first big crisis.

I also saw active members acting as controlling leaders/managers, preferring to work in close groups, denying access to information, keeping control over resources, etc. When I questioned power-based relations and control schemes, when I criticized top-down management, when I told them that all this could be avoided using different techniques, they thought I was crazy. They didn't take me seriously. They thought no project could work without a boss or a manager. 

In a recent exchange, an active member of occupy Kelowna lamented similar problems to the ones we had in Montreal. I understood form his accounts that the failure of their attempt to stabilize an open structure was perceived as a failure of the open model, and some members reverted back to closed hierarchical systems. Instead of questioning their understanding of open systems, questioning their ability to put them on a path of stability,  they rejected the model all together.

Open systems don't just self-organize spontaneously, they don't run on peace and love as some of us might think. There is an art and a science behind them that we need to master. Moreover, once we understand how open systems operate we still need the culture to scale them, while keeping them stable. People need to understand the new rules, they need to get used to new practices and processes, they need to forge the proper socio-economical relations...   

We need to have a discussion on open movements and the culture underlying them. We need to educate the multitude about it if we want the next wave to dig deeper into the system. The capacity of these movements to generate permanent changes increases with their mass and with their level of cohesion. Cultural alignment and a general understanding of open movements will undoubtedly increase the effectiveness and the reach of subsequent movements, as well as the amount of energy channeled through them.   

By AllOfUs

No comments:

Post a Comment